I read this book last year, but for some reason never posted the review I wrote at the time, but as we’re coming up for Easter it seemed appropriate to post it now. At first glance this appears to be yet another example of the Dan Brown bandwagon. I read these when I need some brain candy, but I don’t often review them because they don’t tend to be particularly well written, and reviewing bad books can be tedious. This is different: I’m not sure that it is even on the DBB; for a start it’s a translation. I suspect it’s more in the tradition of the likes of Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Dumas Club Whatever its origins, it’s being marketed to the Dan Brown crowd, although I suspect they may be a bit nonplussed by it.
It certainly is in the fine old French anti-clerical tradition, as here we have the machinations of the Wicked Catholic Church ™ and a huge conspiracy to cover up a piece of scholarship about the early church. Thus, Father Nil (nice name that!) is a scholar of exegesis focusing on the gospel of St John. He beavers away in a monastery somewhere in France and is quite happy until his friend and fellow researcher Father Andrei dies in suspicious circumstances following a summons to Rome to explain his research. Since the POV of this novel jumps around we get to see the players on the other side as it were. There is the totally fictitious (/sarcasm) Cardinal Catzinger, who heads up the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and is determined to keep things on an even keel, and then there is Mgr Calfra, Rector of the Society of St Pius V, a secret internal Vatican group who guard the doctrines of the church with fanatical devotion. And then we have the agents of Mossad and Hamas who also have an interest in this area. Throw in the Dead Sea Scrolls and we have a marvellous mish mash.
Father Andrei has discovered that there were in fact thirteen apostles and that the thirteenth wrote an epistle which contains proof that Jesus died and was buried in the desert. Father Nil also had come across this apostle in his own research – the Beloved Disciple of the gospels. Following the tantalising clues left by Andrei, Nil has to identify the research, and ultimately the truth. On the way he discovers that the church has known about this epistle all along, and throughout the centuries has taken steps to suppress the knowledge of this thirteenth apostle.
This is the second book I have read recently where the plot rests on the assumption that the discovery of an ancient document casting doubt on the provenance of either the Bible or on Christian dogma, or indeed the Koran would cause Christianity and Judaism to crash to the ground and send Muslims into a frenzy. I have to say that I don’t necessarily see that it would make much difference. After all, it has been known for years that the Old Testament was drawn up from many different sources, and that the current form of the New Testament was not finalised for several hundred years. This doesn’t stop large groups of people believing that every single word in these books is true.
Still, it’s a good read, especially if you’re a sucker for conspiracy theories like I am.